The German Foreign Ministry has said that the country will not extradite exiled Turkish journalist Can Dündar, who was sentenced to 27 years and six months in prison on espionage and terrorism charges, since it deems his conviction politically-motivated.
"Germany doesn't extradite individuals who are convicted on political grounds as a principle. The German government makes an effort for independent media and journalism in the world," the statement sent to Deutsche Welle's Turkish service on Dec. 24 read.
"Abiding by international standards in the issues of democracy, human rights and the state of law in order to establish good and lasting bilateral relations and EU-Turkey relations is an essential condition," it said.
The German Foreign Ministry statement came after Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun called on Berlin to extradite Dündar.
"Can Dündar was convicted on charges of espionage and assisting a terrorist organization. To call him a journalist —and his sentence, a blow to free speech— is an insult to real journalists everywhere. Instead of endorsing his crimes, our counterparts should extradite him to Turkey," Altun said on Dec. 23.
Wegen Agententätigkeit und Unterstützung einer militanten Terrorgruppe verurteilte Can Dündars Aktivitäten können nicht unter Pressefreiheit subsumiert werden.— Fahrettin Altun (@fahrettinaltun) December 23, 2020
Das heutige Urteil unter Verstoß gegen die Meinungsfreiheit zu bewerten, ist eine Beleidigung für Journalisten.
Earlier, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas criticized the ruling as a “hard blow against independent journalistic work in Turkey," which he called a fundamental right.
"Journalism is not a crime but an indispensable service to society – even and especially when it looks critically and investigatively on the fingers of those in power," Maas told RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland.
An Istanbul court on Dec. 23 sentenced Dündar to 27 years and six months in prison on charges of "political and military espionage" and "aiding a terrorist organization."
The Istanbul 14th Heavy Penal Court handed Dündar 18 years and nine months in jail for "obtaining state secrets for the purpose of political or military espionage" and another eight years and nine months for "aiding an armed terrorist organization."
He was acquitted of "revealing state secrets for the purpose of political or military espionage."
Dündar, the former editor-in-chief of daily Cumhuriyet, was tried over a 2014 report on Turkish Intelligence Organization (MİT) trucks filled with weapons bound for Syria. The report said that Turkey was sending weapons to Syrian jihadists and provided footage of the trucks being searched by security forces in the southern province of Adana.
'Pay a heavy price'
Following the report, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Dündar would “pay a heavy price" and filed a complaint against him and the daily's Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gül.
Dündar and Gül were arrested in 2015 and spent three months in pre-trial detention. In 2016, a court convicted them to five to six years in prison for “obtaining and revealing secret documents to be used for espionage.” Dündar was attacked outside the courthouse on the same day as the verdict but was uninjured.
After Dündar appealed the conviction, the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the sentences in 2018 and ordered a retrial with harsher sentences. The retrial began in 2019.
The journalist has been living in Germany since 2016 and was tried in absentia. His lawyers refused to attend the hearing on Dec. 23, saying that an impartial trial was not held.
"We do not want to be part of a practice to legitimize a previously decided, political verdict," they said in a written statement ahead of the hearing.
The court earlier this month delayed its verdict after Dündar's lawyers asked for the judges to be replaced to ensure a fair trial. The court rejected the request.
In October, the court ruled to seize Dündar’s assets in Turkey as he was declared a fugitive after he failed to return to Turkey on the court’s orders. Turkish authorities also confiscated his wife's passport in September 2016.